I was 15 years old and my heart was filled with rage.
I remember it like yesterday.
My sister teased me; I got mad at her.
She told me she would tell our parents once they got home. She had that smirk on her face silently saying that they would support her over me. I knew from past experiences that she was right.
This whole situation seemed unjust to me. My body raged from the perceived unfairness.
I felt hurt. I didn’t think anybody would ever see me. My fury took over, and I physically pushed her away from me. I wanted it to stop hurting and did not know how to defend myself.
She fought back. But I was stronger. I threw her on the floor. The fury inside of me created a trance-like state, which made me lose all control. I kicked her head with my foot. One more time. Stronger. She screamed. I kicked her again.
And then I stopped. Absolutely shocked about the violence I was capable of, I took a step back. She was crying on the floor. I left the room, and we never spoke about this situation again.
I was a bully.
As a teenager, I hurt others. Mostly with words and actions of exclusion. Only this one time, it became physically violent. But the emotional wounds I caused others were no less painful. In these moments, rage took over me, and I simply did not know how to deal with my emotions—so I became aggressive toward others.
One girl changed schools because of the pain my words caused her. Another girl’s parents reported me to the police. That was the first time I realized how far I had gone. It made me stop using my words as a weapon. But the rage did not leave me.
Why does someone become a bully?
When I was younger, I felt absolutely powerless. I experienced humiliation on a daily basis. I did not know how to cope with it. If I showed weakness and vulnerability, it became worse. I myself was the target of a bully. And that bully was a family member.
He did not know what he was doing. Through his eyes, it seemed like he was playing with the kids. For me, it was unbearable pain when he held me under water until I couldn’t breathe anymore and how he laughed at me while I was catching my breath.
I felt so ashamed when he played “who is the first one to fall” with me, then threw me on the floor in front of everybody and laughed. I cried myself to sleep when he hit me with a snowball so hard that my skin turned blue and black.
When I was 12 years old, I changed schools. In this new school, I became the target of a group of bullies. I felt excluded and isolated. They laughed at me almost every day. I did not know what to do. After a year, I changed schools again and decided that I never wanted to be in this weak position again. The only option I subconsciously seemed to be able to imagine was to become a bully myself. So I started to hurt others to keep myself safe.
I did not bully everybody. It was only in moments when somebody deeply disappointed me. When I perceived an unfairness happening to me.
When I was angry about a friend who lied to me, all of the suppressed rage about my dad raised to the surface and was projected onto this friend. And I would not let it go. I continued hurting her with my words until she changed schools.
The actions that I have taken and the words I have used to hurt her and others may seem silly and childish today. It was certainly not the worst kind of bullying. But what I did made them feel excluded, isolated, and weak. I looked at life through the filters of unfairness and wanted to justify my pain by making them feel the same way as me.
More than 10 years later, I have personally apologized to them and feel deeply sorry for what I did.
Today, I feel it is time to address the root cause of an issue that keeps on occurring in schools and our lives.
The bully is never just the bully. Whenever somebody finds pleasure in hurting others, it happens to make them feel more in control when they are actually in a desperate state of powerlessness.
It is a copied behavior.
It is not the intrinsic nature of the bully to want to hurt others. It is more so an attempt to defend themselves. But while they feel powerless against the person who is actually hurting them, they hurt others that they perceive as weaker instead. And so the circle continues. Punishing a bully for their actions is not going to address the root cause of the issue. Using violence against violence will not turn anybody into a peaceful person. It will simply mute the behavior by forcing the suppression of their rage.
So what would I have needed as a teenager to make me stop hurting others?
I needed somebody to see my pain. Somebody to make me feel safe to express my vulnerability. Somebody to keep me safe from being the target of a bully myself.
I needed to understand and learn how to deal with the emotions of anger and rage. I needed to be defended and protected from humiliation.
When I turned 16, I decided that I did not want to be a bully anymore. But the rage was still burning inside. I pushed it away every time it wanted to show itself. I did not want to be the “bad girl” anymore.
In my early 20s, I actually believed that anger and rage had left me. I tried to cast out these aspects of myself and send them far away.
And then I found spirituality. The teachings I felt drawn to judged anger as an inferior emotion. And so I continued on the apparent anger-free path.
But I couldn’t escape it for long. In my relationships, my partners would trigger my deep-rooted rage. It would come to the surface, cause extremely painful fights, and then I would emotionally push them away.
And even though I was convinced that I had let the bully inside of myself die, it would find manipulative ways to come back to the surface.
It would turn into a judgmental voice trying to make others feel as if they were not good enough. I made sure to criticize them on their spiritual journey for not being active enough, healthy enough, silent enough, aware enough. I judged myself the same way and made my life hard. Nothing was ever good enough because my expectations were so high that it was impossible to reach them. That gave me a reason to continue picking on myself and others and continue to cause emotional wounds through my words.
I can see today how I became a spiritual bully because the wounds of my past kept me stuck in the perception of absolute powerlessness. My rage needed to find an outlet to express itself. So I subconsciously attracted situations into my life that would have me re-experience the powerlessness and bring my inner tyrant to the surface. But I kept on denying that this was happening.
It was my blind spot—up until the day that I made friends with my anger, and I started loving my rage.
When I stopped judging myself for my emotions, I was capable of consciously feeling my burning inner fire and drop into a vulnerable state to experience the powerlessness that lies underneath the cover emotion of anger.
I consciously chose to remember all the hurt and pain of my past and gave my inner child what it needed all along. I became my own protector and cut abusive relationships out of my life. I expressed my hurt to others and gave rise to my voice again. I turned my life into a safer space and slowly remembered who I was.
I transformed my inner bully back into the scared, vulnerable child that it once was; the child who had created it in the first place. I bathed myself in compassion and understanding. I forgave myself for hurting others. I forgave myself for the self-hatred.
And when I made peace with my inner bully, I started to make peace with my dad as well, for I was able to see that he remained stuck in the experience of powerlessness of his own childhood.
Today, I can thank my anger. I can thank my rage. I can thank my fury for this valuable lesson. I am taking these emotions back as part of myself and invite them onto the path of my spiritual journey.
Author: Alice Dea
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Travis May